Written by: Lillian Su, BS, DVM, MVSc, CCRP (Practice Limited to Small Animal Surgery)
Since graduating from veterinary school, I have made cross-country moves with my canine and feline family members six times. My oldest cat, Alexander, has made every single one of these moves with me…unfortunately, Alex hates carriers and he hates car rides – he has a sensitive stomach and gets sick when he’s stressed. Most recently, I made the trek from Ohio to Portland with Alex, his feline sister, and his two dogs. Figuring out a plan to minimize stress for all of my pets while making progress towards the west coast took some planning.
Moving with animals is stressful for people and pets alike. There are many things to consider when making big moves with Fido or Fluffy.
Before you travel… Will you need health certificates? Additional vaccinations? Blood tests?
Crossing between the US and Canada with adult dogs and cats just requires proof of current rabies vaccination. Traveling between states in the contiguous 48 states is also very easy but will sometimes require a current Health Certificate. Valid Health Certificates can only be issued by a federally accredited veterinarian (https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/animalhealth/nvap/ct_locate_av) and must have been issued within 30 days of travel. Additionally, some municipalities have limits on the number and types of animals one person may keep on a single property. Know the rules and regulations before you move!
If your pet has not been to the vet within the last year, you should at least schedule them for a check up before the move or get a current Health Certificate. Make sure to look into the local and regional animal ordinances so that your pets are in compliance with the law with regards to required vaccinations when you arrive in your new town. If your pet has not been microchipped, it may be a good idea to implant them with permanent identification. If they are, make sure all of your contact information is up to date!
Is your pet crate-trained? The safest (and usually only) way to transport animals by plane, train, or commercial service is in a crate. This minimizes the risk that they will get loose during transport, allows them to have a dedicated space to bed down, and prevents them from being flung about the vehicle in the event of an accident. If your pet is not crate-trained, it might be helpful to acclimate them to the crate they will be traveling in well before you plan to transport them. If you are not certain how to get started with crate training, or if your dog is very stressed by any aspect of crating or travel, you may wish to seek out assistance from your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist to help you formulate the best plan for your pet. This will usually include a behavior modification and training plan and possibly drugs to decrease anxiety during training and traveling.
Domestic or International?
Luckily, all of my moves have been within the United States and Canada and therefore I have not had to deal with the rigorous forms, vaccinations, and blood testing that are often required when moving animals overseas.
Many foreign animal agencies and Hawaii require vaccination and testing well in advance of the move and may require quarantine periods before or after moving. Some states and countries have restrictions on certain species, some have different rules for transporting juvenile animals (i.e. puppies and kittens). If you are moving overseas, give yourself as much time as possible to familiarize yourself with all the requirements and to complete each step as some can take multiple months to schedule or might require very precise timing. If you are looking for information on regulations for moving your pet with you out of the US, go to: www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/ourfocus/importexport/animal-import-and-export/travel-with-a-pet or seek out a veterinarian experienced with import/export of pets. Even if you are using a company to transport your animals, get everything lined up as early as possible!
Land or Air?
Flying vs. driving with your animals each have their own headaches. Flying with pets requires that they be small enough to be taken as a carry-on (small dogs and cats) or identifying airlines that will fly live cargo. All animal transport will require fees in addition to your own airfare. Airline, time of year, size of animal, size of kennel, type of aircraft, origin and destination cities, and whether there are other animals on the flight already are some of the factors that may play a role in flying with your pet. Most airlines that allow transport of pets on their commercial flights have a webpage detailing rules and regulations for transporting animals on one of their flights or at least a contact number to call. It is always advised to check with the airline before finalizing flight arrangements for your pet.
For me, the idea of giving up control over my animals’ well-being during a move is very difficult so I chose to drive for all of my moves. Driving your animals long distances requires having the time to make the trip, having a reliable vehicle that is able to safely accommodate you, your animals, any driving companions, your animals’ supplies (think food, beds, water dishes, litter boxes, toys, crate, etc.), and your own luggage for the trip.
Are your animals good travelers? Or does being in the car stress them out? If you are traveling with more than one animal, do they all get along? If you have enough time, acclimating or counterconditioning your pets to their travel carriers and to the car is highly recommended. Also, speaking with your veterinarian or having a consultation with a veterinary behaviorist about whether or not anti-anxiety and/or anti-nausea drugs might be helpful in easing the stress of travel may be helpful.
Next you need to consider your route and the weather – is it very hot or very cold during your travel days? Does your vehicle have air conditioning to keep the interior of your car cool and comfortable enough for your animals? Are there any road conditions or traffic that you expect might prolong your travel time? Do you have all the supplies your pets will need? You should always bring at least a few days more than you think you will need. Do you have a basic first aid kit to deal with any minor ailments or injuries on the road? Are there veterinary facilities in the towns you are passing through?
Most towns with hotels these days have at least some accommodations that are pet friendly. However, every pet friendly hotel has different rules which may include what kind or how many animals they allow, fees associated with your pet staying with you (deposits, additional per pet room fees, cleaning fees, etc.), and rules about animals being left unsupervised in the room. Some may have changed their rules but may not yet have updated their website. When traveling with animals, it is always best to plan ahead, map out your overnight stops, and call ahead to confirm that the place you want to stay is still pet friendly and that your pets are allowed. It is best to make reservations instead of risking needing to drive on later than you anticipated or having to sleep in your car in an unfamiliar place.
Thankfully, my most recent move went swimmingly. One of my dogs is the ultimate couch potato in the car and slept most of the time we were on the road. The other one has a love of gazing out the windows and would lay down whenever he needed a break. The cats are on friendly terms and they were kenneled in a large wire crate together. While I cannot say they were happy about traveling, with a combination of some anti-nausea meds and a light sedative, neither of them got carsick and they only occasionally scolded me for taking them away from the home they had known.
We drove along major interstates, took frequent breaks at rest stops with pet elimination areas and we stayed at pet friendly hotels that I had chosen and called ahead for each day. While I love road-tripping, I viewed this trip as a means of getting my animals from Home A to Home B as efficiently and free of stress as possible, so I drove as far as was reasonably safe every day but we did not take any side trips or detours. At each overnight stop, the cats were free to roam the hotel room and the dogs and I took a much needed walk to stretch all of our legs.
While every animal will respond to the stress of travel differently, you can help to minimize your pet’s and your stress by getting to know them, doing some basic training / acclimation, checking in with your vet for health certificates or a medication regimen, and planning your trip with them in mind. My herd and I are glad to be settling in Portland and we do not plan on any long trips any time soon, although we are old hands at it by now! Best of luck to all of you out there planning to hit the road with your furry companions. Safe travels!